LAHORE - In the presence of Moharrars and admin officers, the provincial police department has established over 200 front desks at police stations to facilitate the visitors and complainants. The front desk officials, admin officers, and Moharrars are doing the same job but in separate offices and under the supervision of station house officers.

All the three characters have no authority to take any action on public complaints or crime happenings. They have to follow the orders of the senior officers in letter and spirit. They are ‘bound’ to facilitate or entertain the visitors besides maintaining the official record at the police station level.

The experiment to set up front desks at each police station in Lahore comes one and a half year after the appointment of T-ASIs as admin officers. The young police officials of the rank of trainee-assistant sub inspectors had been posted at the police stations as admin officers to get rid of Moharrars (also known as the mother of police station).

Since the provincial government has been struggling to show some visible changes in the corruption-riddled policing, a few senior officers have come up with novel ideas to reform the Thana culture. In this regard, one officer floated the idea of admin officers while the other insisted on the establishment of front desks with civilian staff.

It is not clear yet whether the project of admin officers has failed to show the desired results in Lahore. But the police department believes the front desks initiative will help provide a peaceful environment to the complainants at police stations so that they can file complaints without any fear and hesitation.

Police circles say the admin officers actually had become the “front men” of the station house officers. They failed to improve the working at the police station level. Therefore, the department decided to establish front desks, to be run by civilian staff independently.

Last month, front desks were established at 202 police stations in 13 districts of the Punjab province. Any time, Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif is likely to inaugurate the new project of front desks. The department and media crews are waiting for the CM to own and announce the change.

These front desks, to be managed by the civilian staff, are made operational in several police stations since June last. Some police officers say they believe the initiative is part of the police reforms and it will surely help bridge the communication gap between the police and the public.

At least 578 IT-qualified male and female senior station assistants (SSA) and police station assistants (PSA) have been enrolled through the Punjab Public Service Commission. At least 422 male and 156 female would work as senior station assistants and police station assistants at the front desks to facilitate the public across the province where more than 700 police stations are located. This newly-recruited civilian staff was given six-week training pertaining to policing, laws, and other relevant courses.

At least 74 front desks have been established in Lahore, 6 in Sheikhupura, 3 in Sahiwal, 21 in Gujranwala, 18 in Rawalpindi, 24 in Faisalabad, 8 in Sargodha, 15 in Multan, two in DG Khan, two in Muzaffargarh, 5 in Bahawalpur, and 10 in Rahim Yar Khan region.

According to police officials, these front desks would be monitored on regular bases from the offices of the district police officer and the regional police officers. For this purpose, special monitoring rooms have also been established in district and regional police offices. These desks are equipped with the required infrastructure including equipment and furniture. The SSAs and PSAs will perform their duties independently and they would have nothing to do with the SHOs and the Moharrars of the police stations.

According to insiders, the computerized complaint handling centers set up in 10 police stations of Lahore almost two years ago are renamed as front desks. Now, the police department has decided to replicate this pilot project in other districts of the province. The high-tech complaint handling centers had been established to improve the police image, maintain the official record, and ensure timely registration of cases, and merit-based investigations.

Last year, the pilot project had been launched at 10 police stations of Lahore including Gulberg, Baghbanpura, North Cantonment, South Cantonment, Model Town, Mustafabad, Sarwar Road, and Defence-A, B, and C police stations.

In December 2014, at least 168 T-ASIs were appointed as admin officers in 84 police stations of Lahore in a bid to bring revolutionary changes in the policing. According to a police officer, the Admin Officers provided legal help and guidance to thousands of citizens by accepting at least 15,000 complaints in different police stations of the metropolis in 2015.

The admin officers were given handsets and mobile phone SIMs besides other incentives by the department but these officers were not allowed to write an FIR or attend the phone calls on landline numbers. The Moharrars continued writing the FIRs and the visitors were left at their mercy.

The provincial government is going to allocate over Rs100 billion funds for the police department in the next fiscal year 2016-17. On the other hand, most of the police stations have no stationery, photocopy machines, and other necessary items. The Moharras and SHOs have to beg the notables of the area to run the day to day affairs of the police stations. The development funds worth billions of rupees are left on the disposal of top police officers and spent in the police headquarters.

Many police officers had introduced several ideas or initiatives in the past as well. But such projects collapsed after the officers concerned were transferred to other districts or positions. If the rulers are sincere then the government must introduce a proper policy to reform the police department instead of relying on the ideas or brainchild of individuals.

The police department cannot be reformed unless new legislations are introduced and implemented to give legal cover to the ideas or new policies.